Who is this Nick we speak of? He must be a time-traveler. No, that doesn’t sound right. It must be “knick of time,” right? Right?
Sometimes our brains want to over-complicate things, believing the simple answer can’t be right and that it must be something more profound. In this vein, I’ve seen “nick of time” written a number of ways—“knick of time” and even “gnick of time” among them. However, plain old “nick” is the correct form for this idiom.
- “Nick” is a name, but “nick” is also the word for a small notch, chip, or wound; the action of making this small notch, chip, or wound; and the action of stealing, among other definitions. The phrase “nick of time” is in reference to a measurement of time, as in a measurement between nicks on a stick.
- “Knick” isn’t actually a word. “Knicks” is an abbreviation of “Knickerbockers,” meaning a resident of New York or the pro basketball team. “Knick-knack” is a small ornamental object. “Knickers” is another word for underwear. Somewhere in there, there’s a great “knick of time” story hiding about a buzzer beater shot, nostalgic finds in a grandparent’s attic, or who knows what about time-traveling underwear—but this isn’t what you’re looking for in most situations.
So there you have it. Just in the nick of time, before you misspell this phrase in your next correspondence, you have your answer.
Interestingly, the “nick” of “a nick in time” traces its roots back to the Old English word gehnycned and the Old Norse word hnykla, both meaning “to wrinkle.” If you’re a fan of Madeleine L’Engle‘s A Wrinkle in Time, allow your mind now to be blown.
Aren’t words fascinating?
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